1914-1918: Dazzle-Ships

Dazzle camouflage was a paint scheme used on ships extensively during World War I and to a lesser extent in World War II. It consisted of a complex pattern of geometric shapes in contrasting colours, interrupting and intersecting each other.

“Dazzle did not conceal the ship but made it difficult for the enemy to estimate its type, size, speed and heading. The idea was to disrupt the visual rangefinders used for naval artillery. Its purpose was confusion rather than concealment.”

- Wikipedia

11 Responses

  1. Alan

    The artists Edward Wadsworth (of the cubist/vorticism school) and Norman Wilkinson were involved in developing dazzle,or razzle dazzle, as a way to spook U-boat attacks. Wilkinson was also involved in developing camouflage schemes during WWII, especially for camouflaging airfields and factories from the air. I think that Wilkinson may also have given lectures to the Home Guard on tactical camouflage.



  2. Buzz

    We also in the US tried several variants of the Razzle camoflauge. Just before we entered the war, apparently the US Navy and Army Air Corps tried it becuase it causes your pupils to dialate. Therefore your range estimation is temporarily ineffective. There were some nice color photos of the aircraft in “Air Classics” Magazine a few years ago from the Northrup Grumman archives. I think someone should do an autombile colour scheme this way on something other than a BMW

  3. Catherine Moriarty

    See the excellent essay by Jonathan Black ‘”A few broad stripes”: Perception, deception and the ‘Dazzle Ship’ phenomenon of the First World War’ in N. Saunders and P. Cornish ‘Contested Objects: Material Memories of the Great War’, Routledge (2009), pp. 190-202

  4. Catherine Birkinhead

    Wow, why did I never know about the Dazzle Ships of WWII? Fascinating and seems quite forward thinking for the time? By the way, I’ve stumbled onto the Retronaut website and been on it for hours looking at abandoned ghost tube stations and theme parks and such like,addictive stuff! I Like :0)

  5. Jinx

    Amazing! I wonder if this could still be used today? Fool Somalian pirates, or the Coast Guard for drug runners!

  6. ZooeyFromToledo

    Jinx- Dazzle paint was based on the principle of confusing visual rangefinders. Radar made it obsolete; the US Navy stopped using it before the end of WWII. It would have no purpose today- sorry. (It does look extremely cool, though.)

  7. James

    I can confirm that the dazzle camouflage works to an extent. I used to play submarine simulations and whenever I came across British ships with this camouflage pattern it always caused me problems. The strange patterns make it very difficult to estimate the heading and speed of the ship through the periscope which is necessary when setting up to fire torpedoes. The camouflage is a nightmare but only for very old school traditional rangefinding techniques.


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